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On the Clean Road Again: Willie Nelson on Biodiesel
Willie Nelson has been spotted all over America in his biodiesel powered, "Bio-Willie"–emblazoned caravan. In his rowdy book "On the Clean Road Again," he pits a hilarious recipe for petroleum against the recipe for biodiesel; shares how he and his entourage traveled far and wide on biofuels even before biodiesel stations started cropping up; and relates first-hand experience with biodiesel supply, pricing and regulatory trends he hopes are heralding a bright future for alternative fuels.
Mother Earth’s Recipe for Petroleum
170 quadrillion tons algae
252 billion tons (approximately) dinosaurs
1 dash or sprinkling of various other prehistoric animals and vegetation (chef ’s choice)
In a very large cooking pan, also known as an ocean, cover ingredients generously with warm salty water. All algae, dinosaurs, and vegetation will eventually settle to the bottom, creating a roux. Cover completely with heavy layers of silt, shale, and muck. Cook at 400 degrees for 100 million years. The mixture will eventually turn into a hard rock, and, when stirred, an oily substance will bubble out. Cover the oil with a piece of sandstone (if sandstone isn’t available, any porous rock will do). Next, cover the oily sandstone with a clean nonpermeable rock and simmer continuously for another 200 million years, stirring occasionally.
Yield: At least 2 trillion barrels oil*
*Note: May be difficult and costly to remove from pan
Petroleum-based oil takes millions of years to create and millions of dollars to get out of the ground. Biodiesel can be made at home in a blender in less than thirty minutes. This is especially nice if you drive a diesel skateboard to work. Otherwise, you’ll probably need a bigger batch. Plus, a person could blow up their kitchen and ruin the engine in their car if he’s not careful. It’s definitely best to leave biodiesel production to the professionals. But if you’re brave and have good insurance, here’s how it’s done:
Willie’s Blender Biodiesel
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cleanup: Varies considerably
200 milliliters methanol (Caution: can make you go blind)
3.5 grams lye
1 liter vegetable oil
Place methanol and lye in blender. Blend. Stop. Blend some more. You have now created sodium methoxide. The sides of the blender should be getting hot. At this point, the mixture can eat through your skin and the fumes are explosive and dangerous to inhale. Have the fire extinguisher and a telephone handy.
Pour vegetable oil in with the sodium methoxide. Blend for 15 minutes. Cheaper blenders can and will fall apart during this process of continuous blending. I like to sing to the mixture right about now. Any good country song will do — something with a good beat.
Stop blending and singing after 15 minutes. If done correctly, two layers will form. The bottom layer is glycerin, a by-product of the procedure; it can be safely composted or made into soap to clean up the mess in the kitchen. The other layer is biodiesel.
Yield: 1 liter biodiesel
Smells great! (and other reasons to use biodiesel)
So now that I’ve told you how to make biodiesel, I suppose I should explain what it is.
If you ask the National Biodiesel Board, they’ll describe biodiesel as “a clean-burning alternative fuel produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel contains no petroleum but can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. It can be used in diesel engines with no major modifications. Biodiesel is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.”
Any way you slice it, biodiesel is a feasible alternative energy source. Here's a sampling of the advantages of using biodiesel:
- Biodiesel reduces carbon dioxide exhaust emissions by over 78 percent.
- Biodiesel produces no sulfur dioxide (the major cause of acid rain). Petroleum does.
- Biodiesel reduces exhaust smoke emissions by up to 55 percent, and elimiinate the black cloud associated with a diesel engine.
- Biodiesel provides significant lubricity improvement over petroleum-based diesel fuel, thus extending the life of the engine.
- Biodiesel reduces the classic diesel engine “knocking” noise.
- Biodiesel can be mixed with existing diesel to create any level of blend. A diesel engine needs little or no modification to use biodiesel. Some older vehicles may require rubber hoses and gaskets to be replaced with synthetic ones.
I've been everywhere, man
There are 28 million heavy-duty diesel vehicles in the United States today. I don’t know how many miles my band and I have traveled; no one really adds it up. I do know I’ve gone through several airplanes, buses, trucks, vans, and cars throughout my career as an entertainer. Between my regular touring schedule, benefits, movies, television, and recording projects, I usually work 300 days per year. We’re never in the same place more than one or two days. America’s roads are my driveway, and my house is my bus. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because of the many miles we put on our vehicles out here on the road, I felt it was the perfect testing and research opportunity for biodiesel. I could see firsthand how the product worked for the consumer. I told Gates, Tony, Johnny, and Neal, our bus drivers, that I wanted them to start filling up with 100 percent biodiesel wherever and whenever possible, no matter what it cost.
In the beginning it was very hard to find biodiesel. We’d look on the National Biodiesel Board’s Web site regularly to find new places to purchase it. Many times we’d call a licensed distributor and they’d bring it out to the buses wherever we were, either at the hotels or the gig. Sometimes they’d be there with the usual large silver oil tank pulled by a semi. But a lot of times they’d show up with big barrels of biodiesel in the back of a pickup or van.
Once, several young people showed up in an old school bus. They just pulled out a hose and started pumping. By the time we’d all had our pictures taken together, the bus was filled up with what turned out to be the best fuel on the road yet, and we were on our way to the next town. How simple could it be?
Pick up the tempo
In the beginning, biodiesel was more expensive than diesel, especially if you’re like me and have the distributor deliver it to your tank. Congress recently passed a dollarper-gallon incentive tax reduction, or credit, for producers, making biodiesel and diesel just about equal in price.
We were in Michigan the other day, and biodiesel was much cheaper than diesel fuel. Hopefully for us, the consumer, this represents a trend. I know my truck-driving buddies feel the same.
Thankfully, the use of biodiesel is growing rapidly in the United States, partly due to increased legislation requiring reductions in ozone-depleting particulates released into the air by burning fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas, or coal.
Many government fleets already operate on 100 percent biodiesel or ethanol or a blend of petroleum and renewable fuels. Environmentally pleasing government actions have left the doors wide open for a fuel-hungry nation to hop aboard the renewable-fuels train.
From “On the Clean Road Again” by Willie Nelson. © 2007 Fulcrum Publishing. Republished with permission.